U.S. author tweaks Great Wall story about love

Updated 2018-03-29 10:39:04 China Daily

Unbound, a novel based on an ancient Chinese folk tale about a woman. (Photo provided to China Daily)

American novelist John Shors, 49, has seven novels under his belt, and all of them are set in Asia.

His latest novel Unbound is a love story that takes place on the Great Wall.

Unbound is based on an ancient Chinese folk tale about Lady Meng Jiang.

Shors fleshed out the original story with fictional side characters and subplots.

While the folk tale ends with the tragic deaths of Meng and her husband Fan Xiliang, Shors concluded his version on an upbeat note.

Christine Branstad, the wife of the US ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, has read Unbound and recommended it to friends and family, both in China and in the United States.

Commenting on the book, she says in an email: "My husband and I have both read it and loved the beauty of the story and that portion of the history of the Great Wall. It is a true gift to be able to share that story with the world."

Speaking about his work at an event at Beijing's Bookworm store on March 14, Shors said: "In the West, there are so many novels written, especially within historical fiction, from a sort of European standpoint. And I think there's an amazing part of the world, Asia, that's really underrepresented in Western literature."

The tall, slim and soft-spoken author backpacked across 10 Asian countries when he was 24. And, in 1999, when he was backpacking again in Asia with his wife Allison, Shors discovered the love story behind India's Taj Mahal that inspired his first novel, Beneath a Marble Sky.

Since then he has written stories set in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Japan.

Shors has always had a keen interest in the ancient Wonders of the World.

He has written about the Taj Mahal, Cambodia's Ankgor Wat and now China's Great Wall, by which he has been captivated for almost 10 years.

"I wanted to see the Great Wall, I wanted to walk it, I wanted to understand it, and of course, I wanted to write a book about it," says Shors.

To create an accurate portrayal of Chinese culture for the book, Shors spent four months researching before putting pen to paper in 2014, including a two-week trip to Beijing in 2013.

Then, he walked along the Great Wall for almost a week and felt the texture of the bricks, in an effort to imagine spending time on it from the perspectives of his characters in the book.

"My time on the Great Wall allowed me to see its beauty," says Shors.

"This is a graceful, elaborate structure that is far more than a never-ending pile of stacked stones."

Shors admits to his limitations of having to rely on English translations of Chinese historical accounts.

"But I try to get as original source material as possible," says Shors.

John Shors, the author, walked along the Great Wall over a week to research the book. (Photo provided to China Daily)

At home in Boulder, Colorado, Shors kept an English translation of Stories to Enlighten the World, a collection of short stories compiled and edited by Feng Menglong during the Ming Dynasty.

During the two-year writing process, he consulted about six experts on Chinese culture and history, including a few from the University of Colorado and one from China.

Referring to Shors' efforts to get the details right, Jeremiah Jenne, a Chinese history teacher at IES Abroad in Beijing, says: "The research John did on material culture is really strong, like some of the descriptions of the clothing, weapons and food."

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